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Will a military pension be at risk in a Virginia divorce?

On Behalf of | Mar 14, 2023 | Family Law

It takes many years of service to become eligible for a military pension. Someone’s role and the length of their service will influence how much they receive in pension benefits. For those who truly commit themselves to their careers, their military pension is one of the most valuable benefits that come with the job.

A pension can also be a reason for concern when someone in the military or their spouse starts thinking about divorce. Those who have served in the military may worry about losing part of their pension in a divorce, while dependent spouses may worry that they won’t have any support at all during their retirement years.

State law often requires the division of a military pension

Virginia has a law addressing property division when couples divorce. The state requires an equitable or fair division of property. Couples can either negotiate a settlement on their own or have a judge decide how to divide their marital property.

Major assets like pensions are often at least partially part of the marital estate. In some cases, spouses will reach their own agreements about how they will divide retirement savings. Whether the decision comes from the spouses or a judge, the dependent spouse will likely receive something to offset the value of the pension or a portion of each payment in some cases.

Some people think that military rules determine what happens to a pension in a divorce, but that is not the case. The main consideration will be marital circumstances and state law. Military rules do include provisions that allow for some spouses to receive direct disbursement from the Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS) rather than from the spouse receiving the pension benefits, although this situation applies in relatively few circumstances.

However, it is the jurisdiction that has authority over a couple’s divorce proceedings that will determine what happens with marital property. Spouses can eliminate the uncertainty surrounding such matters by reaching an agreement about how they would like to address a military pension in a divorce settlement. Identifying factors that could lead to complications in Virginia military divorces, like marital property that couples will argue over, and seeking legal guidance accordingly can benefit those who are preparing to end a marriage.